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Art Review: Doug Aitken at Regen Projects and Regen Projects II

September 25, 2009 |  9:00 am

Every part of every piece in Doug Aitken’s three-part exhibition at Regen Projects and Regen Projects II has had so much attention paid to it that you’d think the life had been squeezed right out of it. That’s what happens with lots of movies; as production value goes through the roof, emotional effect diminishes.

In contrast, Aitken’s 24-minute movie and suite of illuminated photographs demonstrate that gorgeousness and psychological resonance are not inversely proportional. The L.A. artist does this by making works in which the parts do not add up to tidy wholes but leave so many loose ends and send so many mixed messages that it’s impossible not to follow one or two out of the gallery, into the street, the city, the world beyond.

 In the Almont Drive gallery, Aitken has installed a big but not quite full-size billboard on which “migration” is projected. No people appear in the movie, and no words interrupt the lovely soundtrack. From beginning to end, we visit generic motels and hotels, entering room after room as if we’re in some kind of pleasantly existential drama, a kinder, gentler version of Sartre’s “No Exit.”

DA_2008_migration_still_03

Things take a turn for the Surreal, à la Rene Magritte, as animals appear in the rooms: first a horse, then a pair of birds, a raccoon, a buffalo, a fox, four rabbits and so on. Aitken’s isolated menagerie recalls the biblical story of Noah’s ark and Samuel Beckett’s tragicomic “Waiting for Godot.” Like those tales of ends and beginnings, Aitken’s visual poem — first shown at the 2008 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh — gives form to the sense that the landscape of the United States is not what it used to be and that what comes next is anyone’s guess.

In the Santa Monica Boulevard gallery, seven wall-mounted light-boxes, most in the shape of words, illuminate photographs of the Western landscape, including aerial views of suburban developments, a sunset over a Cadillac dealership and a partially demolished casino in an empty parking lot that seems to recede into infinity.

It’s difficult to read the words — “free,” “fate,” “now” and “start swimming” — while looking at the images. The disjuncture between seeing and reading opens up just enough space to let you into the picture.

That happens more powerfully every night, on the outside walls of the gallery, where “migration” is projected as a diptych, from sunset to sunrise. The size of the images amplifies their power. So does the oddness of seeing the movie under the stars, in a parking lot. The fact that the movie is just there, free to be seen by anyone who happens upon it, adds to its melancholic majesty and bittersweet mystery.

Regen Projects, 633 N. Almont Drive, and Regen Projects II, 9016 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 276-5424, through Oct. 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.regenprojects.com

--David Pagel

Above: From "Migration," by Doug Aitken. Photo credit: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Regen Projects, Los Angeles.


 
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